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Ned Johnson, 70; Ornithologist and Museum Curator

June 20, 2003|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Ned Johnson, a renowned ornithologist and curator of the UC Berkeley Museum of Invertebrate Biology, has died. He was 70.

Johnson died June 11 at his home in the Northern California community of Orinda after a long battle with cancer, the university announced in a statement Wednesday.

Over the years, Johnson collected more than 7,200 bird specimens, most of which are in the university's museum and available for study.

Johnson's life partner and close colleague at the museum, Carla Cicero, remembered Johnson as having an extensive understanding of the region's birds.

"His knowledge of the distribution and natural history of birds in Western North America, and his scientific contributions to the ornithology of the region, are unsurpassed among living ornithologists," Cicero said.

A native of Reno, Johnson became hooked on birds at the age of 7 when he spotted a red-shafted flicker.

"It happened in an instant," Johnson once told a reporter for Cornell University's ornithology publication, Living Bird. "I couldn't believe how beautiful it was. That flicker just crystallized things for me."

Johnson published his first paper on birds when he was 17. He earned his bachelor of science degree in biology from the University of Nevada at Reno in 1954, and served in the Army in West Germany for two years.

He joined the UC Berkeley faculty after earning his doctorate there in 1961. At the time of his death, he was working on a book on geographic variation and speciation in birds.

Although Johnson studied birds throughout North, Central and South America, his primary interest was the evolution of birds in Western North America. He was considered an expert on flycatchers, owls, sage sparrows, sapsuckers and vireos.

Johnson was just weeks away from a planned retirement. At the same time he joined the Berkeley faculty, he was hired as a curator of the museum's extensive ornithology collections.

In addition to Cicero, Johnson is survived by a son, three daughters and three grandchildren.

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